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Critical Citizens

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Critical Citizens

Global Support for Democratic Governance

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

When does people’s natural criticism of a democratic government turn dangerous? You might recognize the dividing line when you hear it – but how much damage will have been done by then?

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


The waning support among citizens for democratic institutions and their political leaders has been well documented in the United States in recent years. Now, academics analyzing global support for democracy have uncovered similar trends in other democracies. Mistrust of politicians, it seems, is becoming one of the universal values of the global village, according to this compilation edited by Pippa Norris. The book draws data from the World Value Survey, a unique, comprehensive survey of citizens of the world’s democracies. By definition, democracies are made up of diverse interest groups, each clamoring for itself – so, is skepticism really a surprise, or unhealthy? More important, is it an indication that perhaps democracies are not as stable as you might hope? getAbstract recommends this book to those with an interest – be it philosophical or commercial – in the growth and health of global democracies, and also notes its specific interest to students of political science.


Have Cynicism, Will Travel

One sage observed that democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others. Small wonder, then, that North America’s widespread political cynicism extends abroad. If the US exports democracy, it also exports cynicism. Surveys show that citizens in other democratic countries are experiencing the same diminishing faith that governmental institutions represent their best interests. But why? Theories abound:

  • Cultural explanations – Post-industrial societies stimulate an independent mindset that tends to be more critical. Modernization has undermined support for traditional, hierarchical institutions. This is not a problem for democratic governments per se. Rather, it is a consequence of larger issues that transcend the evaluation of governmental efficacy and relevance.
  • Political explanations – Perhaps this “crisis of government” stems from unrealistic expectations. The expanded postwar role of government has elevated citizens’ perceptions of what they should receive from the state.
  • Institutional explanations – This disenchantment may reflect a growing “democratic deficit” due to a widening...

About the Author

Pippa Norris is Associate Director of the Joan Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy Center of Government. Norris specializes in comparative political behavior.

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